The world is full of helpful tips on how we can better ourselves. Recently, I took my oldest for his annual physical and heard something I hadn’t before. “Five, two, one.” The doctor said. My son and I both gave him a “huh?” look. “Five fruits and vegetables a day, Limit yourself to two hours of screen time a day, and get one hour of exercise.” After the appointment over lunch, my son commented that this sort of advice was nothing new, just a new method of remembering it and that probably, it would be sort of viewed as the minimum by doctors but ascribed as the maximum in practice by patients. Being seventeen, he naturally looked to game the system. “If I drink a smoothie with all five, I can eat junk the rest of the day.” “If I download music while I’m doing my homework, it doesn’t count towards my 2 hours of screen time where it’s just for fun.” And “Movies put on to entertain my brothers and sisters while I’m babysitting also don’t count.” I pointed out that calories eaten in Easter candy shouldn’t count either, but they do.
We started looking at all the lists and tips designed to improve lives while creating a baseline that is usually taken to be the requirement rather than the starting point. It became a game between us. “Twenty minutes of music practice.” I reminded him. “Body mass index.” My son chided. “Speed limits.” (He’s learning to drive). “Tax brackets.” (We were driving to the accountant). “S.A.T. scores.” He winced in anticipation of that that one and we both had a good laugh.
Measuring one’s carbon footprint, one’s body fat, watching a 401K, all of these “pay attention”and “Do this” moments reduces the experience of living to a math equation where you know the needed outcome. The extenuating circumstances for failing to meet the minimum or maximum or desired number become irrelevant. Taken in total, they can make one feel constantly ill at ease. The check list for the day becomes the obligation which becomes the drudgery of constantly being weighed, measured and found wanting.
But it struck me, that in prayer, in loving, there are no limits. We cannot pray too much, nor can we love too much. We cannot pour ourselves out for God enough. Yet we often limit ourselves with God while we abuse the limits of our behavior in every other opportunity. We rush out of mass or come late. We rush through prayers with a mindlessness rather than mindfulness. Could we not stay awake for even an hour? It doesn’t mean we abandon all the good things we must do in a day, (I’d just penciled into my list reading for each of my younger children). Instead, all these tasks which must be done, must be cloaked with a certain permeated attitude and if we’re not feeling it, a joyful mask. We are called to live an unlimited life of love. Sometimes the love is simply dedicated service when it is hard, sometimes love is sheer obedience with all its cost; other times, it is as easy as breathing.
I added into my list, kiss each child good morning and hug them good night. It made my list longer with the dry cleaners and the doctor’s appointment and the paper work, but it is the reason any of those other tasks have any meaning. It’s not that I want to make my life one big syrupy Hallmark moment, it’s that I want the end of my day to include some aspect of the over the top color and joy and beauty of Spring, of God’s whimsy; and moments of love and actions of love are those necessary flourishes for well lived lives. In the end, I told my son the 5-2-1 rule wasn’t so bad or oppressive, he’d still get his time to enjoy facebooking his friends and downloading music, but that limits on all things save love were necessary if we were to live a balanced and healthy and holy lives and gave him a hug.
Copyright 2010 Sherry Antonetti